Impact of Large-scale Retail on an Inner-urban Neighbourhood

Academic project; author

Goals:

The largest Loblaws store in Ottawa at time of completion was constructed in the inner-urban neighbourhood of Westboro in 2003, following an approval process that saw many local residents voicing concern about the potential for a big-box development trend that would be out of scale with the village character of their community.

This study examined the impacts of the store on local residents and business owners, by evaluating:

  1. residents’ impressions of the building, site, and general impact of the development on neighbourhood character;
  2. changes (if any) in residents’ vehicle use and pedestrian behaviour;
  3. changes (if any) in residents’ shopping patterns; and
  4. the general impressions of Westboro’s small business community regarding this development.

Method:

Surveys distributed to 200 local residents and 48 business owners were the primary sources of data for the project. Seventy-eight residents (39%) and 25 business owners (52%) returned surveys.

Residents were asked about their degree of support for or opposition to the retail project both prior to and after store opening, their impressions of the size and appeal of the building and site, personal shopping patterns, methods of travel, degree of patronage of other stores in the area, and general impressions regarding the store’s effect on the surrounding neighbourhood. Business owners were asked for general comments regarding the grocery store development as well as information about changes (if any) in sales volumes following the establishment of the new retail outlet.

Results/Knowledge Gained:

Most residents who were surveyed stated the retail development has had a positive effect on neighbourhood character. Most surveyed described the building streetfront as either somewhat or very appealing, despite the impression of many that the complex as a whole is too large. Most also favourably rated the sidewalks, landscaping and benches as improvements to the previous industrial site. Despite an overall favourable rating, several suggestions for improvement were voiced by residents including the use of more attractive building facade elements and increased landscaping around the site.

Pedestrian behaviour among Westboro residents varied based on trip purpose and destination. Perceived increases in local traffic surrounding the retail outlet did not appear to deter residents from walking or biking for purposes other than grocery shopping. In contrast, modes of transportation used specifically for grocery shopping were noticeably influenced by the new store, as residents were far more likely to travel by vehicle.

A reduced proportion of groceries purchased from other retailers following the opening of the new food outlet appears to reflect residents’ appreciation for the convenience of ‘one-stop shopping’ close to home. However, despite this change in local residents’ shopping patterns, Westboro business owners voiced general support for the new store, noting the potential of the store as a draw for increased volumes of shoppers from other areas of the city.

When asked of their initial reaction to the proposed retail outlet, most residents stated they were either in favour of the project or in favour with some concerns, suggesting that initial opposition to the project originated from a vocal minority. The general success of the Loblaws grocery chain can be attributed to its application of a proven formula of mixing the desirable elements of traditional small grocery stores with the convenience of greater selection and abundant parking.